travel day: naked in stockholm

 As we undress in the locker room in the Stockholm spa, my sister and I have to have that conversation that you always have when getting a massage at a new spa, though usually only with yourself, titled: am I supposed to take off my underwear, or not? On the one hand, you don’t want to be told halfway through that your bra is in the way and you were supposed to take it off. On the other, you definitely don’t want to be the OMG! creepy person who took off her underwear totally unnecessarily! So unless you’ve asked ahead of time, and we haven’t, you have to make your own call.

Amanda and I each make our own decision and head to the massage rooms in our fluffy white bathrobes. We are all smiley as we enter what we assume is the lounge area, and then stop short. So many things are wrong here. So many.

Our massage tables are in the same room. They are right out in the open. Our masseuses are men. And worst of all, absolute worst of all, the masseurs wave hello, point to our robes, and order, “Ok, off.”

Listen. In the U.S., we have a naked thing. We just do. I know this seems completely silly, but Naked in Front of Strangers, or Maybe Even People We Know, is a truly horrifying proposition for most of us. Everyone knows about that girl who walks around totally naked in the locker room at the gym, and we think she is weird. (If you are that girl, please take a note: everyone would like you to put on a towel, especially if you are hot, because now you make us uncomfortable plus we hate you.) There is a Korean spa in the DC suburbs that my friends are all dying to visit, but won’t, because in one small part of the spa you have to walk around naked.  Of all the women I know in DC, I cannot get a single one to go because of the naked thing. “Can’t I wear a bathing suit?” every single one asks me. “No? Well, I’m not going.”

When you get a massage, many spas seem to go insanely out of their way not to see you naked. The tables are in their own individual rooms. You walk in wearing your bathrobe. The masseuse (which has always been a woman, in my personal experience, but I suppose it’s possible that is not always the case) tells you she will leave the room and you will hang up your bathrobe and slip under the sheets on the massage table, and then call her when it’s safe to come back in. That’s right: she waits until you have uncovered and then recovered yourself completely before she will enter the room. Then she will uncover, and then recover, each body part, separately, as she conducts the massage, so you don’t even have, say, one naked arm AND one naked leg exposed at the same time. That’s how anti-naked we are.

“Off, off!” the Swedish masseurs shout. We just stare at them. The masseurs, now assuming from our complete failure to respond means we don’t speak English either, both move forward and start untying our robes themselves.

Faced with imminent unwilling disrobal, Amanda makes a bold decision. She will go Nonchalant. Flinging off her robe herself, she strolls the table and climbs on without hurry. “We are in Europe, dammit”, she sends to me telepathically. “Act like we do this all the time.”

Unfortunately, my sensors are blocked and I stay with Frozen in Panic, which means my masseur has to literally rip the robe off of my catatonic body, nearly wrenching my right arm out of its socket because I can’t remember how to bend it. When finally successful, he cavalierly flings the robe across the room. “On!” he says, pointing to the table. This time I follow directions, if only to cover up one side of myself.  It seems to take 10 minutes, though surely it was only as many seconds, to be covered in a sheet.

By then, however, Amanda and I have both began giggling hysterically into our pillows.

“Quiet, please,” Amanda’s masseur tells her sternly. She tries. So do I. But being hushed just made it worse, and the more we try to muffle it the worse it gets, until we are both literally shaking the tables.

“We want to be calm, yes?” My masseur asks me.

“Yes,” I gasp out. Must. Stop. Giggling. Must stop!

It’s a solid ten minutes before we get ourselves under control, and even when we leave we can tell by the icy silence that the masseurs are not pleased with our bad behavior.

Not European. Not Nonchalant.

Some people really should have a naked thing.


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